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Proposed funding change for transit projects in NoVA fuels debate

Local leaders are expressing concern about an abrupt change in the way the state funds transit projects in Northern Virginia, saying it will disrupt collaborative regional planning and funding efforts.

Currently, state and local transit funds are pooled and administered through the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission, which then distributes the funds through a negotiated formula. This process funds Virginia jursdictions’ share of Metro costs, as well as local transit services.

In mid-May, Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation Director Thelma Drake announced her department immediately would begin sending transit funds directly to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority and to local governments, rather than funneling it through NVTC.

In fiscal 2012, the department provided about $110 million in transit funding to NVTC.

Elected officials from Fairfax and Arlington counties and the cities of Falls Church, Fairfax and Alexandria — the NVTC member jurisdictions — say the current system helps cushion the impact of unexpected changes in state funding.

The proposed process actually would be less efficient, the officials contend, and would require additional administrative expense for local governments and “introduce other inefficiencies that would waste precious transit funding,” according to a letter signed by the mayors and chairmen.

“This letter is really very important because so that we slow this train down,” said Fairfax Supervisor Catherine Hudgins (D-Hunter Mill).

Drake agreed to delay the change to allow for input, but still intends for it to go into effect in the new fiscal year, which begins July 1.

The letter also states the proposed funding shift interferes with the General Assembly’s request that NVTC and other Northern Virginia transportation organizations, such as the Northern Virginia Transportation Association, review the possibility of consolidating their organizations and creating more efficiencies. That process has just begun.

Further, they contend the change conflicts with state law because the funding model that NVTC uses is part of state code.

Supervisor Pat Herrity (R-Springfield) did not join his colleagues in endorsing the letter. He said he thinks some of the points of contention the localities outlined in their letter were exaggerated, such as the amount of additional staff time.

Although he agreed the department acted in haste, “we need to understand what the impacts are to us before we jump and say it’s no good,” Herrity said.

The matter now is under review by the Commonwealth Transportation Board.

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